When I decided to throw my two of my best girlfriends, Emese and Mimi, a joint birthday dinner, I knew I wanted to do something special. Going to a restaurant didn’t feel intimate enough and I didn’t want to spend a full day cooking for an army in the kitchen. About a month ago, my friend Katie Lee, mentioned that she loves using this website called Kitchen Surfing so I thought I’d give it a try …
Kitchen Surfing is like an online matchmaking service for hiring private chefs. You fill out a request form, sharing everything from budget to event details to culinary preferences. And let me tell you, the offering of different types of chefs is so, so, so large, from those who specialize in Middle Eastern vegan cuisine to the chefs who pride themselves in down-home southern barbecue.
While it may sound fancy, I was surprised by how affordable many of the chefs are--especially, considering that it’s a customized in-home dining experience. Once you input all of your preferences, Kitchen Surfing sends you a list of chefs you’re compatible with and their proposed menu for your event.
That’s when the fun really kicks in. You can peruse their profile, scan reviews and even chat directly with the chefs. I don’t consider myself particularly tech-savvy and typically prefer a quick phone chat to hammer out details, but I must admit that this was very simple, reliable and fun process.
I got paired with Chef Dominique, a super cool young chef with a penchant for cooking fresh, local, Mediterranean-style cuisine. Dominique turned the evening into a family affair, bringing along her brother, Rob Agri (current manager of Lafayette), to bartend and serve. She even made her mom a part of the celebration by baking her famous yellow birthday cake recipe, which she’s graciously shared below.
While Dominique handled the food in the kitchen, I got to work on the décor. I chose a pink colorscape and had menus printed to make it feel like a truly unique and special occasion. I also took inventory of my kitchen the day before, taking advantage of the opportunity to use some of the fabulous dishware and serving platters I’ve gotten over the years.
From serving platters to napkin rings, I always try to make sure every element is distinct. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve a complete look. I found these great lace disposable napkin rings on Etsy that are priced at 3 for $1!
All in all, it was a successful evening, filled with delicious food and amazing friends. I was so pleased with how the evening turned out and even more grateful that I didn’t have to spend half of it stuck in the kitchen. Below are some recipes from the dinner and above is a slideshow of my dinner party essentials.
But now that I’ve shared my secrets, I want to hear yours! What are foolproof tips for hosting the perfect dinner party?
Spiced Greenmarket Carrots
- 1lb carrots
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds – toasted and crushed
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 bunch dill
- 1 tsp. coriander
- 1 tsp. cumin
- ¼ cup pistachios
- ¼ cup dry cranberries
- 2 tbsp. lemon
- 2 tbsp. EVOO
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- Wrap the carrots in foil and roast in the oven at 400 degrees until fork tender but not soft*.
- Move away from heat and allow them to cool.
- Blend all herbs and spices in a food processor or a spice grinder. Mix into carrots.
- Toss with EVOO, salt, pepper, pistachios and cranberries and serve.
- One head cauliflower
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 4 cucumbers - chopped
- 1 bunch basil
- 1 bunch mint
- ¼ cup EVOO
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chop the cauliflower and add it to a food processor.
- Grind until it has the consistency of fine granules.
- Warm olive oil in a deep pan over medium heat.
- Lightly sauté cauliflower.
- Toss with vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper and serve.
Moist Yellow Cake
- 8 oz. butter at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 ¾ cups cake flour sifted
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Sift the flour and baking powder twice. Set aside.
- Whip the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Lower the speed and add eggs gradually until incorporated.
- 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
- 4 Tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
- 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup (you don’t have to use it if you object to this kind of sweetener but it does add a nice sheen to the glaze and helps with the fluidity
- Combine chocolate and butter in a medium bowl.
- Bring cream and corn syrup to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often.
- Pour over chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then stir until melted and smooth.
- Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
- DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill. Return to room temperature before using.
Chocolate Butter Cream
- 12 oz egg whites (10 large egg whites or about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 lbs (for lighter texture use less butter: for a sturdier frosting use the whole 3 pounds) unsalted butter, room temperature.
- 8 oz. melted chocolate/can be milk or semi-sweet
- 2 Tablespoons rum or Grand Marnier (Optional)
- Lightly whisk egg whites and sugar together in large bowl from a standing mixer over simmering water until egg-white mixture is hot to touch or a candy thermometer reads 140°F (60°C).
- Whip with a wire whip until double in volume on MEDIUM-HIGH speed. When the mixer stops, the meringue should not move around in the bowl. Meanwhile cut up butter into 2-inch pieces.
- When whites are cooled start to add the softened butter one piece at a time
- Continue beating until the mixture begins to look light and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. Reduce speed to low and add cooled melted chocolate and optional Grand Marnier. Continue to beat on LOW speed for 45 seconds. Then beat on MEDIUM-HIGH speed for an additional 45 to 60 seconds.
To assemble cake:
- Cut cooled cakes in half or thirds depending how high you want your cake
- Using a 10 “cake circle put the first layer on the circle/dab with a tiny bit of butter cream on the cake circle so the layer stays in place
- Put about 1 ½ cups of butter cream for each layer,
- Chill cake till butter cream sets then frost the top and sides and chill again
- Have the glaze at a fluid room temperature (not cold, not hot)
- Set cake on rack over a sheet pan and evenly pour the glaze over the top of the cake, rotate sheet pan so the glaze flows down evenly.
- Wait a few minutes before handling so glaze set
- Chill till set completely
- Use remaining butter cream in a pastry bag with a small star tip to finish off the edges and top with raspberries
- Serve at cool room temperature so the butter cream just melts in your mouth.
Enjoy and happy baking
Actress, model, active humanitarian, & Mom! Author of 'Everyday Chic'.